Author Archives: Nicole Bonnell

Cultural Wedding Custom/Tradition

1001 Paper Cranes

In Japanese tradition, it is supposedly good luck to have 1001 paper cranes when you get married.  Paper cranes are made by intricately folding a square piece of paper in a series of specific steps.  It is a Japanese art form known as origami.  Typically the bride and groom do not make the paper cranes.  Friends and family usually all join together to help make the cranes because it takes quite a bit of time to fold 1001 cranes and the end product is usually a gift to the newlyweds.  The cranes can be made in all different sizes and out of all different colors of paper and all the cranes do not have to be uniform.  Usually the size and color of the paper used to make the cranes depends on how the paper cranes are going to be displayed at the wedding.  The paper cranes can be displayed in really any way and people have gotten very creative with the display of the cranes.  For example, my mother told me that at my Aunt’s wedding the paper cranes were all made out of white paper and her bridesmaids strung all the cranes onto white thread, using knots to evenly separate the cranes on the string and hold them in place.  Then they got a tree branch and spray painted it white, and draped/arranged the cranes on the string in the branch so that it looked like a small willow tree filled with white cranes.  For my uncle’s wedding, his friends and his fiancee’s friends folded paper cranes using red, black, and gold paper, and then with the paper cranes lying flat, arranged them into the family mon, which means crest in Japanese and had the arrangement framed.

Paper cranes are not only made for weddings.  I remember I used to make paper cranes just for fun with my mom and my grandmother.  My mom was the one who originally taught me although I don’t remember exactly how or why she taught me.  I probably learned or was taught to make paper cranes as a way of establishing cultural identity.  I know my grandmother really liked teaching me Japanese things like words, customs and traditions.  I suppose she enjoyed being able to teach her grandchildren about their culture and make sure that we grew up a sense of our Japanese identity.

Paper cranes are also part of the popular art form of origami and is cited in various works.  For example, paper cranes have come to symbolize peace because of a widely published book called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.  I actually remember reading this exact book when I was in elementary school.  The book is based on the true story of a young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki who was born in 1943.  The atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945, when Sadako was two years old.  People who knew Sadako say that growing up she was a strong, courageous and athletic girl.  Sadako was a runner but in 1955, at age 11, while practicing for a big race, she became dizzy and fell to the ground.  She was diagnosed with Leukemia, also known as “the atom bomb” disease.  After her diagnosis one of her best friends told her of an old Japanese legend which said that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes would be granted a wish.  Sadako hoped that the gods would grant her a wish to get well so that she could run again. She started to work on the paper cranes and completed over 1000 before dying on October 25, 1955 at the age of twelve.

To the left is Sadako, pictured at age 12 (1955) and to the right is Sadako’s monument in Hiroshima, Japan.

Annotation: Coerr, Eleanor.  Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.  New York: The Penguin Group, 1977.

The next few pages have pictured instructions on how to make paper cranes and example of them.  Below is a step by step diagram with instructions on how to fold a paper crane.

To the left is a picture of a paper crane that was made but is folded to that is flat.  Below is an example of a family crest that was made by putting together 1001 paper cranes (flat) similar to the one pictured to the left

Weddings are often full of folklore because they surround the liminal period or mark the transition of a couple from dating to being married.  Wedding are also a very special and joyous occasion in many cultures.  It is also a pretty big deal in many cultures and isn’t something taken too lightly (one indicator cold the the great amount of time, money and energy that normally go into them) which could explain why there are so may superstitions and or rituals involved that are supposed to bless the marriage or bring the marriage good luck.  Just like the 1001 paper cranes are supposed to bring good luck, I have heard other superstitions such as the groom cant see the bride before the wedding, or the bride has to wear something, old something new, something borrowed, and something blue.


My friend Derek told me a myth that he learned from his father when he was about 12 or 13 years old.  The myth explains why people have all different shades of skin color.  Derek said that according to the myth his father told him that when the Earth was first created there was just one giant continent and running through the middle of the continent was a one giant river.  He said that everyone living on the continent was very dark but at the at top of the river, near the opening or delta of the river the people would wash themselves in the river and they eventually became lighter and lighter until their skin was not dark anymore but instead it was white.  The water continued to flow down the river and the people further along the river also washed themselves with the river’s water.  Derek said that their skin became lighter but not as white as the people before them because the water was had already been used and wasn’t as clean.  Derek said then towards the bottom of the river there was hardly any water left so the people who lived there could only wash the palms of their hands, the bottom on their feet and their lips.

According to Derek this myth is supposed to explain the difference in skin color and appearance of different people.  He said the people who washed themselves in the river first are supposed to be white people and the people towards the bottom of the river are supposed to be black people.  Everyone in between has various shades of skin color, representing all the other ethnicities or races.  Ultimately the skin color of the people is supposed to get progressively darker as you move down the river.  Derek said he doesn’t remember why his father told him this myth but he said he remembers the myth because he thought it was a funny way of trying to explain different skin colors.  I agree it is a sort of comical way of reasoning why people have different skin colors but I also think it could be taken offensively for the reason that the logic behind the myth is that basically people were washing the dirt of themselves with the river water and the people at the bottom of the river could get their skin to be as light because the river water had already been used by so many people and was dirty.  But I’m sure that the myth is not intended to be offensive or suggest that people of darker skin tones are “dirty”.  However I think that the fact that the myth is comical adds to its popularity.  Like jokes, this myth explores race and skin color, often things that are not normally acceptable to discuss in society.  People are always saying that its not what’s on the outside like skin color that matters or should matter.  Because we are taught not to point out difference is skin color this myth be a humorous way of poking fun at something that you are really supposed to joke about.

Summer Festival – Japanese


Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom that is intended to honor ancestral spirits but has evolved into a family reunion holiday where families clean and honor their ancestor’s graves.  Obon takes place in the summer and the participants where yukatas, which are light cotton kimonos (typical Japanese garment).  The festival or celebration often includes a carnival, traditional Japanese food and dancing called Bon Odori.

When I was in elementary school my mom used to take me to the Obon festival every year.  It was always held during the first weekend in August at the Gardena Buddhist Church.  During the months of June and July I would go to Obon practice with my friends and their moms (all of whom were of Japanese descent).  At Obon practice, everyone would make a giant circle in the church’s parking lot and we would all move one direction in the circle practicing the traditional dances.  There were speakers in the center of the circle that would allow the instructor who stood in the middle with a microphone to teach everyone the dances.  The instructor would teach everyone each step and then we would put it all together and they would play traditional Japanese music so we could practice the entire dance.  There were also Taiko drums (traditional Japanese drums) set up and were sometimes played along with the music, usually by young men.  There were several different dances to learn.  Some of the dances used a Japanese fan, in other dances you used a towel, and there were some where you just used your hands.  I remember I liked going to the practices because I got to go off and play with my friends, although we did get in trouble by our mothers sometimes for not taking the dance practice seriously.  Then during the first weekend in August Obon was held at the Gardena Buddhist Church.  My family and I usually went Saturday afternoon and stayed until night.  My mom would dress me up in a kimono, but she didn’t make me wear my hair in a bun or do the traditional socks and slippers.  She let me wear my hair down and wear whatever sandals I wanted.  There was a neighborhood street next to the church that would be blocked off so everyone could dance in the the street.  Families would set up lawn chairs or picnic blankets and watch their children and other family members dance.  Usually the men would watch, or mothers with infants would watch, but that’s not to say men and boys did not participate in the bon odori because they did, but there were usually more female participants.  The environment was very fun and casual.  You didn’t have to do all the dances either.  You could stop and go back to your family and take a break and eat some food.  And if you forgot the dance steps you just tried your best and looked at other people around to help yourself remember the dances.  After the dancing was over there was a carnival set up in the church’s parking lot.  I remember there was Bingo, a moon bounce, and other various carnival games.  My favorite was the goldfish one.  There was a inflatable kiddie pool filled with water and small plastic fish bowls floating in the water.  You paid a ticket to get three ping pong balls and tried to throw the balls into one of the floating bowls.  If you got the ball into the floating bowl you won a goldfish.  The carnival also had traditional Japanese food such as yakitori, which was grilled teriyaki chicken or beef on a stick and musubis (rice balls).  As a kid I never understood what Obon was for or what it was about.  I just liked going because it was fun and it was something that I had been doing every summer for a long time.  I asked my mom why she took us to Obon and she said it was because she knew we (my brother and I) had fun and because our other friends and their families went.  Also my mother said she took us because my grandmother used to take her to the same Obon when she was a kid and she liked it.

Obon is a prominent Japanese festival that is documented in various works such as Paul Norbury’s guide to Japanese customs and etiquette entitled Culture Smart! Japan on page 54. Obon is a cultural festival that helps create a sense of cultural identity, and is a tradition that has been passed down in my family.  It gave me a sense of cultural identity yet at the same time I appreciate the fact that my mom didn’t force me to do all the traditional things like wear my hair in a tight bun and wear the traditional wooden slippers that were extremely uncomfortable.  Below is a picture of Obon.

Annotation: Norbury, Paul. Culture Smart! Japan. Great Britain: Kuperard: 2003.


Around the World

Around the World is a game/riddle.  The object of the game is to figure out the trick to the game so that you can actually participate.  I learned this game from my friend Mikey while we were driving up to San Francisco for the SC/Cal football game.  Mikey said , “Alright, we’re going to go around the world and were going to start in Alaska.  Then we’ll go to Rome, but we can’t go to Greece.  After that we can’t go to California but we can go to Oregon.”  The game continues on this way and the people playing are supposed to figure out the game.  The trick is that the first letter of each place you go to has to spell out the phrase “Around the World”.  That’s why you can start in Alaska, or Annapolis, or Australia, or any place that starts with the letter A.  Then you can go to any place that starts with the letter R.  In addition the place you choose to go to can be anywhere.  It can be as broad or specific as you want; from a continent to a restaurant or even a particular person’s house.

Mikey is from Huntington Beach, CA and said he learned the game form a friend from home.  He says he played the game with us to help pass the time in the what we all knew was the beginning of very long car ride to San Francisco, especially because we got caught in the downtown LA rush hour traffic.  Mikey says that likes the game and remembers it because when he first played the game or had it taught to him he was able to figure out the trick to the game on his own and didn’t have to have someone else explain it to him.  I can understand why that makes the game more special or meaningful because I personally can never figure out these types of riddle games and always end up asking the person to tell me the trick to the game.  But I’m sure I’d remember one if I ever did figure it out on my own.

Proverb – Mexican

“No dices que tu no vasa tomar el agua del rio porque de vasa a tomar el agua del mismo rio.”

“Don’t say that you won’t drink the water from the river because you will drink the water from the same river.”

“Never say never.”

My friend Derek told me this Mexican proverb.  The first line is the proverb in Spanish and below it is the direct English translation.  The rough translation of the proverb is the common expression “Never say never”.   He said that his mother used to tell him this proverb and still does to this day.  He said she used to tell him this proverb whenever he would say that he didn’t want to do something and would never do it.  Derek says that his mother tells him other Spanish proverbs but this is the only one he could remember at the time.  He said he understands the proverb now that he is older compared to when he was a young kid and his mom used to tell him the proverb.

According to Derek the proverb means that you don’t know what is going to happen in the future and you shouldn’t assume things or make drastic proclamations, such as saying never.    He says that the future is filled with uncertainty but the proverb is trying to tell people to embrace it and let it happen rather than trying to define during the present what the future will be.  Proverbs from various culture are interesting to look at because they tend to reveal much about a particular culture’s perspective and beliefs.